The gemba is the place where the action is, where the core activity of a business resides (e.g. the manufacturing floor). The gemba walk may be familiar to lean engineering practitioners but it's a valuable tool for non-manufacturing businesses as well. Walking into the gemba or doing a gemba walk is a concept I learned about recently at Walk the Line- The effective way to do a gemba walk.
If this sounds like something that's suited only to large business, think again. The gemba walk is an opportunity for leadership to learn how things are done, to engage the employees who make things happen and to engender the sort of trust and confidence that aligns the work force with the goals and purpose of a business.
I don't know a lot about the gemba but I know the idea of getting up close and personal with the folks that make your business work is definitely a winning idea. You can find a lot more information on-line but here are a couple things to keep in mind as you prepare to walk the gemba:
What You Can't See Will Hurt You
You've heard it said- the view from the ivory tower is obstructed by the lack of awareness. Here's your big chance to get out and see what’s making your business tick (or not). If you don’t know what’s going on out there, sooner or later you’re going to find out. And you may regret it.
A gemba walk requires that you listen carefully. The things your employees have to say are important- real important! Ask questions that are purposeful and that require thoughtful answers. Then listen, take notes and acknowledge your appreciation for the time they have taken to enlighten you. You need the details only they can provide and they need to know it matters that you do.
It’s your responsibility to put the employees at ease so that the gemba walk will be effective (and so that your company will reap the benefits). That can be difficult since employees are often intimidated by business owners. Treating your employees with respect might sound like a no brainer but think about it. The manner in which you engage in conversation, acknowledge the value of personnel and the contributions they make are critical to success. By showing your respect for them you are earning their respect as well. In an environment of mutual respect the things that are hard to say will be said. Don’t blow this opportunity to make your business shine.
The gemba walk is a two way street. On this walk you are the visitor and the line employees are the shop owners. You may have influence over the shop owners but they’re the ones that make things happen. The gemba walk is an opportunity for everyone to become aligned. I’ve provided just a few keys to making the walk successful. I encourage you to get walking.